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Recipes and Stories

22 December 2018: Old-Fashioned Thumbprint Cookies

Old-Fashioned Thumbprint Cookies

Once upon a time, I was very organized. Any holiday baking that I did would’ve been long ago planned out and done by now. But life, as the saying goes, has been too much with us lately, and other things have had to take precedence over it.

Moreover, with our grandchildren a full day’s drive away, and most of my friends and neighbors either watching waistlines or already inundated with treats, the only people here to eat Christmas cookies are the two of us. Now, two people and multiple tins of homemade Christmas cookies, cheese straws, and fruitcake is a deadly combination.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a few homemade treats in the house, and there’s always someone who’s holiday will be brightened by a gift of things we’ve made ourselves.

Besides, it just doesn’t feel like Christmas without heating the oven and having the aroma of baking cinnamon and vanilla filling the house at least once. And so, when I couldn’t stand it anymore, I carved out an hour or two, set out butter to soften, rolled up my sleeves, and knocked out a quick batch of old-fashioned thumbprint cookies.

This lovely holiday staple is perfect for last minute baking. It’s really just a simple shortbread dough that’s rolled into a ball and pressed either with your thumb, the back of a spoon, or the fat, rounded bottom of a thick-handled wooden spoon to make a well for jam.

If you bake at all, their ingredients will already be in your pantry and refrigerator, and they’re easy and quick to mix and shape. So if, like me, you’re just now making the time to bake, these little bites of holiday magic are just the thing.

Old-Fashioned Thumbprint Cookies

You can also vary the dough by flavoring it with another extract such as almond, or with orange flower or rose water. The sugar for rolling them can also be a flavored one, such as vanilla, lavender, or coconut sugar.

The jam in the ones that are pictured here is peach, because it’s what was in my fridge, but just about anything will work, so use whatever you happen to have on hand: apricot, blackberry, fig, festive holiday red cherry, raspberry, or strawberry, or even orange marmalade. They’re also lovely with equal parts peach jam and orange marmalade mixed together.

Makes about 30 (2½ dozen) cookies

8 ounces (2 sticks or 1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup confectioners’ sugar
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons Bourbon Vanilla (see ) or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
10 ounces (about 2 cups) all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
½ cup granulated sugar, for coating
About ½ cup jam (apricot, blackberry, cherry, peach, raspberry or orange marmalade), at room temperature

1. Cream the butter until fluffy and light and blend in the confectioners’ sugar. Blend in the egg yolk and vanilla. Whisk or sift together the flour and salt. Gradually work it into the butter and sugar mixture to form a fairly stiff dough. Cover and let it rest 15-20 minutes.

2. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Put the granulated sugar in a shallow bowl. Scoop tablespoons of the dough onto the parchment, then with your hands roll them into an even ball. Roll each ball of dough in the granulated sugar and return them to the parchment, spacing them about 1 inch apart.

3. Using your thumb or the back of a round ½-teaspoon measuring spoon, press a well into the center of each cookie. When all the cookies are rolled, shaped, and pressed, refrigerate them until the dough is very firm, at least 30 minutes.

4. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350° F. Put the jam in a shallow bowl and stir until it’s smooth and soft enough to spoon. Remove the cookies from the refrigerator and spoon enough jam into each imprint to fill it even with the top (about ½ teaspoon).

5. Bake until the cookies are lightly browned on the bottom and beginning to color at the edges, about 15-18 minutes. Cool them in the pan on a wire cooling rack before storing in airtight tins with parchment paper between each layer.

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